Human rights are worth little unless they are protected by a state. Thus, the philosopher Hannah Arendt called for a “right to have rights,” meaning a legal entitlement to citizenship. States should be forced, if necessary, to safeguard their citizens’ basic rights. Dr. René Torkler argues that Arendt’s idea is a useful suggestion for how we should deal with the current refugee crisis in Europe.
The right to citizenship that Arendt calls for goes beyond other human rights, because it cannot be guaranteed solely by a single state. For this reason, even back in 1940, Arendt proposed establishing a European community of states with its own parliament. Accordingly, one of the most important tasks for the present-day EU should be to legally safeguard basic human rights.
Arendt’s thought was influenced by her own escape from the Nazi regime and the experience of being unwanted in other countries. Torkler points out parallels with the current situation, where, he argues, refugees find themselves under a general suspicion of being potential terrorists. For both Arendt and Torkler, how we treat refugees shows how civilized we are as a society.